New attack on the Chinese wall – ANALYSIS

Editor's note: Moses Becker is a special commentator on political issues for News.Az, a PhD in political science and an expert on interethnic and interreligious relations. The article expresses the personal opinion of the author and may not coincide with the view of News.Az.

On April 24, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit China, where he will engage in several days of negotiations with senior officials in Shanghai and Beijing. This trip marks Blinken's second visit to China, occurring at a time when the U.S. is cautioning Beijing against providing support to Russia in its war in Ukraine. There are significant expectations in the U.S. that Blinken will be able to convince Beijing to cease its support for the Russian military industry. Concurrently, amidst this diplomatic visit, the U.S. is reportedly crafting sanctions aimed at disconnecting certain Chinese banks from the global financial system, as mentioned by The Wall Street Journal, which cites unnamed sources.

A little history 

The evolving dynamics between China and the United States have historically oscillated between phases of cooperation and rivalry, reflecting broader geopolitical shifts and strategic realignments. This analysis traces these fluctuations, starting from World War II when the Republic of China aligned with the U.S. against Japan. This alliance dissolved with the advent of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, ushering in decades of overt hostility, exemplified by U.S. efforts to exclude the PRC from the United Nations Security Council in favor of Taiwan.

The Sino-Soviet split in the late 1950s marked a critical juncture, with the subsequent deterioration in relations between the USSR and the PRC catalyzing a reevaluation of U.S. foreign policy. The strategic rapprochement initiated by President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the early 1970s symbolized a significant pivot, epitomized by Nixon’s landmark 1972 visit to China. This visit not only ended years of isolation but also began a new era of Sino-American interactions.

The domestic policy shifts within China under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership in the late 1970s further facilitated bilateral engagements. Deng’s "Beijing Spring" focused predominantly on economic liberalization while maintaining strict political controls, a strategy that avoided the risks of societal democratization but promoted economic modernization.

This approach enabled China to emerge as a major economic power, first in terms of purchasing power parity and later in nominal GDP terms, effectively transforming the country into the "world's factory."

China’s strategic policy of "hiding its capabilities" served it well up until the early 21st century. However, by the 2010s, Beijing recognized the limitations of its technology transfer and acquisition strategies. This realization led to the ambitious "Made in China 2025" initiative, aimed at transitioning China towards indigenous high-tech manufacturing and reducing dependence on foreign technology.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 signaled a significant shift in U.S. policy towards China. Trump's administration viewed China’s ascendancy not merely as an economic challenge but as a geopolitical and military threat, necessitating a robust response to curb China’s trajectory towards global dominance. This perspective marked a distinct phase of competitive tension, redefining the contours of Sino-American relations in the process.

How to resolve contradictions?

 For the United States, China represents a "strategic competitor." Consequently, Washington's strategy is to "strengthen American power sources and align closely with allies to safeguard its interests, values, and partners." The objective of U.S.-China interactions is to engage in "responsible" competition and prevent the relationship from descending into a "new Cold War," which could potentially escalate into active conflict.

From China's perspective, "China’s development adheres to its own logic and laws," rendering any attempts to halt it futile. The preferred approach should be constructive engagement rather than escalating measures like export controls and investment bans. However, this proves challenging, particularly given the rising confrontations in the Indo-Pacific region, an area China views as its natural sphere of influence.

Notably, China has devised a strategy of creating a "necklace" of security zones that includes military bases in several states as well as artificial islands, which command significant maritime spaces and trade routes. China's regional claims are further bolstered by the formidable presence of its navy, now among the global frontrunners. This explains the U.S. strategy of forming anti-China coalitions such as QUAD and AUKUS.

This strategy, however, does not facilitate trust-building between the two nations. Moreover, the U.S. is concurrently managing two other crises: the Russian invasion of Ukraine and escalating tensions in the Middle East, where a confrontation between regional powers Israel and Iran could lead to unpredictable outcomes. In this context, China has the capacity to either exacerbate or mitigate these conflicts through its policies on arms sales and embargoes, as well as supplying intelligence and military technology to both Russia and Iran. China's recent opposition to the U.S. was highlighted by the statement of a Chinese representative at the UN Security Council regarding an Iranian attack on Israel. Both Moscow and Tehran have long circumvented broad-ranging sanctions, primarily thanks to China's support.

This complex situation compels Washington to reduce its confrontations with Beijing, which also poses an overt threat to Taiwan. Engaging in a multi-front war is scarcely feasible for even a superpower such as the U.S., particularly since adversaries like China and Russia are far more formidable than Iran. In this particular scenario, it's crucial to note that Taiwan supplies 21% of all American imports of ship engines, 16% of computer components, and 14% of semiconductors.

Coupled with critical Chinese supplies and potential disruptions in trade routes with neighboring countries, the situation is indeed dire. This underscores the U.S. concern over China's policies and its efforts to displace American influence from the Indo-Pacific and Middle East regions. Without these two components, the U.S. would cease to remain a superpower.

China–USA: A renewed attempt?

As reported by the Financial Times, the United States is poised to implement sanctions against China should Beijing continue to transfer technologies related to offensive weaponry to Russia. During his upcoming visit to China, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is tasked with delivering a stern message to his Chinese counterparts. He will make clear that the patience of the U.S. and its allies is wearing thin regarding Beijing’s military cooperation with Moscow. This confrontation is anticipated to be the most explicit warning the U.S. has issued to Chinese officials to date.

However, China's support for Russia is not without strategic calculus. By aligning closely with Moscow, Beijing not only fortifies Russia’s strategic orientation and long-term dependency on China but also effectively diminishes U.S. influence globally. Historically, President Donald Trump nearly succeeded in swaying Russia to align more closely with the U.S., a strategy the current administration has inadvertently reversed, strengthening the Russo-Chinese alliance. For Moscow, China’s support may not be the ideal alternative, but it has become a necessary option in a geopolitical landscape reshaped by American actions.

This strategic context gives clarity to China's Military Operations Law, which legitimizes the deployment of Chinese armed forces beyond its borders. The worsening geopolitical situation with Russia only bolsters China's determination to confront Western pressures, acknowledging that it could be next in line for similar challenges.

During his visit to China from April 24 to 26, Secretary Blinken will warn Beijing that Washington is prepared to impose sanctions if China does not cease its supply of dual-use technologies to Russia. The U.S. and its allies are increasingly frustrated with Beijing's continued provision of essential equipment to Moscow, ranging from semiconductor chips to missile engines.

It is anticipated that Blinken will discuss these issues with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, without revealing the specific measures Washington might deploy, likely targeting Chinese financial institutions. Additionally, the visit is expected to include reaffirmations of support for Taiwan and calls for peace in the Taiwan Strait area.

Further discussion topics may include President Joe Biden’s intentions to increase tariffs on steel and aluminum exports from China. The outcome of this high-stakes visit remains uncertain, but it is likely that both parties will maintain their strategic interests. In China, there is a prevailing belief that "the east wind overpowers the west wind," reflecting a tense and charged atmosphere readily apparent to unbiased observers.

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